Friday, July 29, 2011

Nose-Talgia: The Royal Wedding of Charles and Diana: July 29, 1981

Thirty years ago.  Oh, boy, we all were a lot younger then, but I know that many of us can still remember getting up and watching the whole Royal Wedding proceedings on TV.  There were viewing parties everywhere, and even today, three decades after the event, it's still possible to look at this bit of recent history and almost forget the tumultuous path from the storybook then to the more realistic now.  July 1st of this year would have been the 50th birthday of Diana, and we can enjoy her 20-year-old loveliness and innocence in wedding footage much as we might enjoy our own home movies, with sentiment and possibly a tad of regret for time passed by so swiftly.

Here's a short segment of Royal Wedding coverage from that day, to remind you of what we all stopped everything for -- and it was worth it.

LIFE magazine has a terrific set of photos up on their site of Charles and Diana on their wedding day, and we highly recommend taking a few minutes to look back.  The recent wedding of their son William to Kate Middleton was lovely, but to many of us it was a pale deja vu of 1981.

If you've become incoherently nostalgic, we can also highly recommend the entire proceedings on YouTube, with many thanks to user BenBronxNYY, who has twelve segments of wedding coverage up, in great quality, too.  You might also like to take a look at the BBC's ON THIS DAY page which recounts the wedding and also has other info about Charles and Diana, including some historical context.

It's not often that you can remember exactly what you were doing on a certain day, beyond vague generalities.  But for July 29, 1981, there's no doubt at all.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Shark Week 2011: Show Me Your Teeth Boys!

Every year the Nose likes to give folks a heads up that Discovery Channel's "Shark Week" is coming. Mark your calendars and set your alarms, the pointy teeth fest is coming our way this Sunday night, July 31st. Be sure and visit Discovery's blinking, pulsating, colorful Shark Week webpage by clicking the link above. There you can watch the FABULOUS "Show Me Your Teeth" promo video set to a Lady Gaga tune. Or you can see it right here by activating the video on The Flaming Nose. I must warn you that it is highly addictive, and I have suffered this song as an ear worm for 5 consecutive days.

And now, because I have already said plenty about Shark Week in past Flaming Nose posts; (see for yourself) 2010 or 2009, I'd like to add a few new random shark anecdotes.

First a Shark joke:
A man is swimming in the ocean when he happens upon a shark. He's so startled, he punches the shark right in the nose. "What did you do that for?" asks the shark. The man says, "I was so scared, I thought you were going to eat me!" The shark says, "Well I am now". Existential. Funny. And sort of true...for most sharks, if you don't bother them, they won't bother you. Discovery's Shark Week coverage has evolved over the years to include many segments on shark ecology and conservation. One hopes the message resonates so that the shameful slaughter of sharks for their fins (to make a Chinese delicacy) will end.

Do You Think the movie "Jaws" is very popular in the People's Republic of China?
Because if you really think about it, there is a subtle socialist manifesto running through this movie's main themes, especially if you look at the key characters. Maybe that's why they are so intent on wiping out sharks by turning them all into soup! First there's Captain Quint: a rugged individualist (anti collectivism) who endangers the others by destroying the boat's radio. He is punished by becoming shark food. Then there's Matt Hooper: a wealthy young capitalist who hides under a rock (imperialist coward!) to escape the giant shark. Mayor Larry Vaughn is the most despicable character, responsible for many deaths because he keeps the beach open (selfish profiteer!) choosing money over human life. Only Chief Brody, man of the people...public able to heroically vanquish the monster fish in the end. Voila!

Watch Shark Week starting this Sunday. It's nice to have a TV series about sharp teeth that doesn't involve vampires!


Sunday, July 24, 2011

Citizen U.S.A.: Don't Take it for Granted

There is a momentary cure for the national malaise that afflicts Americans these days. If you (like me) are weary of the political quagmire in Washington, the endless pitiful stats in the news about our tanking economy, or the fact that your 401K has shriveled like a raisin...HBO has something to make you feel better about the U.S.A. It's the latest documentary from Alexandra Pelosi called Citizen U.S.A.: A 50 State Road Trip. It follows the map to naturalization ceremonies across the country and we see people from all over the world becoming brand new Americans.

I've been in a terrible funk over the end of the U.S. manned space program this week. The space shuttle Atlantis returned from its final voyage, and it felt impossibly sad. It was the end of an era for me, and represented the demise of something that I dearly loved and cherished about this country; the pioneer spirit. Citizen U.S.A. helped me break out of my pity party for a moment, and recognize that people from Afghanistan, Iraq, Korea, China, Hungary, the Netherlands and (yes) even Canada, can still find ways to not take the freedoms we have in America for granted. And they prove it by forsaking their birth countries with an oath to become citizens of the U.S.A. They do it in all 50 states in ceremonies that are homespun, corny, delightful and uplifting. Citizen U.S.A. gives us a glimpse of the joy that is felt by people of all colors from all corners of the Earth, who raise their right hand for America. It's a chance to feel red, white and blue again, if only for an hour.

This documentary is part of the HBO documentary summer series, and it premiered (appropriately) on July 4th. I was traveling that week, so forgive me for providing this recommendation a few weeks late. You can still find Citizen U.S.A. on HBO on Demand in their documentary section.

Friday, July 22, 2011

"Shatnerpalooza!" on EPIX Now, with Special Premieres!

This should have gone up yesterday, but it's definitely not too late to begin enjoying the Shat-tastic delights of EPIX network's super special event Shatnerpalooza, now through the end of the month.  If you're a fan of William Shatner as Captain Kirk, you will be in heaven -- I know we will be around here!  Celebrating the many talents of Shatner -- as actor, icon, interviewer, legend -- Shatnerpalooza features an incredible line-up of Star Trek-related programs, plus other treats from Shatner's prodigious TV output. 

The centerpiece of the event is the premiere tonight at 8pm of a brand-new documentary entitled The Captains, where Shatner interviews the select few actors and actresses who have played Captains over the life of the Star Trek franchise.  From Patrick Stewart to Kate Mulgrew to Avery Brooks and beyond, The Captains is sure to be amusing and enlightening.  In case you've missed it, William Shatner is enjoying quite a nice run lately as a tremendously gifted interviewer, with his great work talking with fellow celebrities and historic newsmakers on his two Biography Channel series Raw Nerve and Aftermath.  He's incredibly good on both of them, exhibiting a keen intelligence, asking fascinating questions, and also coming across as an enlightened human being with a huge well of compassion.  There aren't THAT many 79-year-old actors out there doing anything close to the level or quantity of work Shatner is -- are there any others? -- and if anything, he's just getting better with age. 

Among the other treats of Shatnerpalooza are his classic The Outer Limits episode "Cold Hands, Warm Heart" as an astronaut whose mission to Venus has unintended after-effects, and episodes of the U.S. version of Iron Chef hosted by Shatner.  TV fans will thrill to the inclusion of  the rarely-seen 1979 TV movie Disaster on the Coastliner, co-starring Raymond Burr, E.G. Marshall, Yvette Mimieux, Pat Hingle and Lloyd Bridges.  It definitely doesn't get any better than that! Also featured is a new special about the staging of a dance performance to Shatner's album with Ben Folds entitled Gonzo Ballet, and I see one airing tonight at 2am Eastern of the great and frequently filthy Comedy Central Roast of William Shatner, uncensored.  Hilarious!

But wait, there's more!  You'll also want to catch Shatner in 1974's sexy Bonnie-and-Clyde-ish action film Big Bad Mama co-starring Angie Dickinson and Tom Skerrit, and in his controversial race relations film from 1962 The Intruder, with Shatner giving a powerful and unusual performance under the director of Roger Corman, with a screenplay by frequent Twilight Zone writer Charles Beaumont.  Also on tap is the really good and provocative  1961 film The Explosive Generation, co-starring Patty McCormack (The Bad Seed), Lee Kinsolving, Billy Gray (Father Knows Best) and Ed Platt in the story of a high school teacher who dares to introduce sex education into his classroom, and the hell he gets for it.  (Obviously -- and sadly -- this is a plotline that would still be relevant today in some parts of the country.)

EPIX has a strong online presence, and also is presenting a couple of movies only on the web, including a couple more TV movies -- Pioneer Woman and Broken Angel -- and a really terrific event coming live from ComicCon in San Diego this afternoon, open to anyone (I think!).  Director Kevin Smith will be talking live to William Shatner at 6pm EST (3pm on the West Coast), and you can tune into to it here at that time and watch.  It should be fascinating -- Smith is smart and so is Shatner!  (I'm sure this will be available later if you miss it and I'll be sure to post the details as soon as I find them.)  Check the EPIX schedule for more information on the entire Shatnerpalooza line-up!  EPIX is also allowing to many of these movies and definitely The Captains special free to everyone, so check it out even if you don't have EPIX on your system.

There's also an online challenge called "The Long Khan" which takes Shatner's famous "KHAN!" shout from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and asks viewers to upload their own versions.  I haven't done it but I encourage it!

Shatnerpalooza continues on EPIX through the end of this month.  Check out EPIX online for more information, and though it's not exactly intuitive to find what you want there's a lot there!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Happy 90th Birthday to John Glenn, American Hero!

There's nothing we like around here more than astronauts, and today, July 18th, is the 90th birthday of one of the greatest -- John Glenn, born on this day in 1921.  As the fifth person ever into space, and the first American to orbit the planet, John Glenn would forever be enshrined in the history books, not just for his outstanding achievement but also for his continued service to America as a popular Senator from Ohio and Presidential candidate in 1984.  It seems inconceivable these days that someone with as much courage and gumption as Glenn would be a politician seeking to lead America -- all we get seem to get nowadays are businessmen, billionaires and crackpots!  But once there was a time when such men walked in America, and John Glenn was the real deal with the Right Stuff.

John Glenn was one of the group of astronauts known as the Mercury 7.  Many of you were probably not even born when Glenn took his landmark flight on Friendship 7 on February 20, 1962, but Americans fell in love with John Glenn on that day and he never lost his standing as one of America's genuine heroes.  Forgive those of us who were around for being nostalgic about those days, but it was truly a magic time, with John F. Kennedy as President, guiding America as the country reached for the stars with palable national pride in the achievement. 

This is a great time to revisit the 1963 documentary The John Glenn Story, introduced by President Kennedy.  You can watch it here, now, courtesy of the National Archives.

John Glenn wasn't about to miss out on NASA's Space Shuttle program, and to much fanfare became the oldest astronaut to fly into space when he boarded the Discovery in late October of 1988 for his mission.  The seventy-seven-year-old then-Senator Glenn got some flack for going back into space, but doesn't that criticism seem absurd now?  Imagine if NASA had buckled and not let him go on small-minded would that have been?  Glenn was an Astronaut Hero and needed to be there, and he was.

This is a clip from The John Glenn Story by Michael Lawrence Films.

You might like also to take a look at these compiled TV spots from his Presidential bid in 1984.

Here's John Glenn giving a speech at an event celebrating NASA's 50th Anniversary in 2008.  He has a charming self-deprecating quip at the beginning, and he's completely awesome throughout!

John Glenn is also a participant in the annual John H. Glenn lecture at the National Air and Space Museum, this one from 2009, celebrating the Apollo 11 mission.  The whole event -- 7 parts in all -- is fascinating and also features Astronauts Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, Buzz Aldrin.  Glenn's individual part begins in Part 3.  This is beautiful quality and thrilling stuff!  Click on the above link to go to the first part.

You'll also want to go to the website of the John & Annie Glenn Historic Site in New Concord, Ohio, and you'll probably want to make a physical pilgrimmage there after seeing the virtual version. 

Life magazine online just released a batch of unpublished John Glenn photos from their archives; take a look at them here at this link.

NASA has a Glenn Research Center named in honor of John Glenn, with a lot of terrific information.  Be sure to try the interactive feature of Glenn's life and career!

Paul Barosse, on his "Paul's Voyage of Discovery & Etc." blog had a wonderful post last week entitled "Growing Up in the Space Age".  You should read it; it is superb and fascinating.  He charmingly ties his own childhood in with the excitement of the space program, and it's terrific.  Kudos to him!  Read it!

We also love that John Glenn, as a character, was one of the most exciting parts of Phillip Kaufman's superb 1983 film adaptation of Tom Wolfe's non-fiction book The Right Stuff, about the Race to Space.  As played by Ed Harris, Kaufman's version of Glenn is the ultimate clean Marine, a charming, self-effacing but proud over-achiever who becomes a media darling but remains a dedicated team player and makes all of America proud.  Here's the trailer for the film, plus an amusing scene where Glenn's competitive spirit really comes out.  If you haven't watched this film lately, you need to.  It's exciting, biting, funny, and thrilling.  Not a moment isn't amazing.  Watch it! 

What else can we say?  John Glenn embodies all that we hope America is, was...could be.  He's also a wonderful example of growing old with brilliance and fortitude.

Happy Birthday, John Glenn!  We love you!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

15 observations about this year's Emmy nominations

Just some random thoughts on the subject...

1) The presence of so many movie talents working in television now continues to blur the line between the two mediums--more than ever, it seems TV is taking over the mantle of providing great entertainment for adults. In particular, the director categories are filled with an impressive line-up of mainstream, indie and foreign directors.

**Martin Scorsese got two nominations, one for directing the Boardwalk Empire pilot and the other for his American Masters documentary A Letter to Elia, co-directed by film critic Kent Jones.
**French director Olivier Assayas is probably the most highbrow director ever to be nominated for an Emmy, for helming the Spanish miniseries Carlos. In fact, Carlos is somewhat of an special case in that it was released theatrically in some markets before it was shown on IFC. By the way, Edgar Ramiriez (seen below) was, happily, also nominated as Best Actor in a Miniseries for Carlos.

**Canadian filmmaker Todd Haynes (Far From Heaven, Safe) was cited for his HBO adaptation of Mildred Pierce.
**American Splendor directors Shari Springer Burman and Robert Pulcini were honored for their direction of Cinema Verite.
**Monster director Patty Jenkins was picked for her pilot for The Killing.
**Irish director Neil Jordan (The Crying Game, Mona Lisa) got a nomination for his episode of The Borgias.
**L.A. Confidential director Curtis Hanson was nominated for his HBO movie Too Big To Fail, about the Wall Street debacle.
**Ridley Scott landed a spot in the Nonfiction Special category for being the executive producer on Bravo's production on Gettysberg.
**In the same category, Steven Soderburgh got a nod as exec producer on HBO's His Way.

2) Also, some big-time movie idols got some nominations this year: Kate Winslet, Melissa Leo, Guy Pearce and Evan Rachel Wood for Mildred Pierce; Kathy Bates for Harry's Law; Gwyneth Paltrow for guesting on Glee; Zach Galifinakis and Justin Timberlake, both for hosting Saturday Night Live; Matt Damon for guesting on 30 Rock; Kristen Wiig (the newest movie star on the block, after Bridesmaids), nominated once again for her SNL work; Steve Buscemi for Boardwalk Empire; Paul Giamatti, William Hurt and James Woods for Too Big To Fail; Diane Lane for Cinema Verite; Greg Kinnear, Barry Pepper and the forever terrific Tom Wilkinson for The Kennedys; Lawrence Fishburne in Thurgood; Elizabeth McGovern and Maggie Smith for Downton Abbey; Peter Dinklage in HBO's acclaimed Game of Thrones; and Christopher Plummer as the narrator of TCM's Moguls and Movie Stars. Wow!

3) Two theatrically released films were nominated in the Best Nonfiction Program category--Josh Fox's anti-fracking doc Gasland and PBS' Oscar-nominated doc The Most Dangerous Man In America: Daniel Ellsberg And The Pentagon Papers.

4) I was glad to see that the two HBO projects I'm most excited about--Todd Haynes' Mildred Pierce miniseries and the retelling of the Loud family saga, Cinema Verite, got scads of nominations. In fact, Mildred Pierce leads the pack overall with 22 nominations.

5) Somehow, even though it continues to rarely be funny, Saturday Night Live landed 16 nominations--more in one year than it has ever received. Are Emmy voters really WATCHING this show?

6) I'm wondering if this year's sentimental choice for Best Actor in a Comedy Series will be Steve Carrell, whose final episode as The Office's Michael Scott aired this year. He certainly deserves the Emmy, after losing six times in a row; his contribution to the show has been indelible. But, in my opinion, though, the award should really go to...

7) Louis C.K. Though his astounding FX show Louie got him nominations for Best Actor and Best Writing in a Comedy Series, the show as a whole failed to land in the top spot for Best Comedy Series (they should have thrown out the terminally unfunny Parks and Recreation to make room for it). Still, C.K. arrives as a 4-time Emmy nominee this year (he got two other nominations, for writing and editing (!) his comedy special Louis C.K.: Hilarious). Yay for Louis C.K. We adore him here on the Nose!

8) As always, I'm happy with the justified domination of Mad Men (17 nominations) in the Drama Series categories (and I'm especially happy that Elizabeth Moss--the show's Peggy--has moved up into the Lead Actress category). But, while I like Modern Family just fine, its 15 nominations in the Comedy categories feels like overkill.

9) Boardwalk Empire landed 16 nominations in its first Emmy year, including just ones for series lead Steve Buscemi and supporting actress Kelly MacDonald. I only wish I loved the series more than I do, or else I'd be rooting for it.

10) Nice to see that Pee-Wee Herman is back on the Emmy rosters. His Pee-Wee on Broadway special for HBO garnered a few nods, including one for Best Variety Special (interestingly, he's competing against Lady Gaga for her HBO Monster Ball concert offering).

11) It looks like The Big Bang Theory has finally arrived. As well as getting chosen as one of the six Best Comedy Series nominees, the show got two lead actor nominations, for Jim Parsons and Johnny Galecki. Somehow, though, that's the best the show could do--it missed out on any of the writing and direction nominations, because Modern Family is hogging up the categories.

12) In the reality programming categories, I have to protest the exclusion of two of my favorite shows: the History Channel's Pawn Stars and Discovery's Oddities. But I DO like the inclusion of PBS' Antiques Roadshow and Discovery's Mythbusters. So I suppose it's all a trade-off.

13) I still think Gordon Ramsay should be an Emmy nominee for hosting Kitchen Nightmares (another of my current favorite shows). I think he's smart, empathetic, tough and hilarious.

14) Six years into its run and the Emmy board once again couldn't even deliver ONE nomination to the consistently hysterical It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia? Even for the always reliable Charlie Day? Somethin' ain't right here...

15) Finally, I look askance at the numerous nods rained down on both the controversial miniseries The Kennedys (which sounds to me like a histrionic disaster) and on the HBO movie Too Big To Fail (which looks as dry as two-day-old toast). But I'm thrilled that Julian Fellowes and company got so much love for their PBS series Downton Abbey. Again, I guess it's all a trade-off.

"Breaking Bad" Returns to AMC Tonight at 10pm!

I knew it had been a while, but 13 months?  That's how long it's been since the end of the last round of AMC's riveting and award-winning series Breaking Bad, and now it's back for its fourth season!  That 13-month hiatus explains why BB isn't up for any Emmy Awards this year, but no doubt we can expect them back in line next year.  Breaking Bad just keeps getting better, and this season -- according to reports -- is extra-dark and guaranteed to thrill and shock us. 

If you've missed any episodes, it's never too late to catch up via DVD, and the 3rd season episodes are on AMC's On Demand menu at this time -- not sure when they will be going away, so better get to them as soon as possible.  You should also visit AMC's terrific and info-laden Breaking Bad website, which expertly summarizes each episode in great detail, and though it's not the same as watching, you'll get the pertinent plot points at least. 

The real pleasure in Breaking Bad is precisely in watching it -- no other show looks, especially in High Definition, so hypnotically beautiful, and yet most of the settings are stark, perhaps even ugly.  However, with that brilliantly blue New Mexico sky overhead and a countryside that looks more like Mars than this planet, it's completely hypnotic.  Also, lab equipment and tubes and vials never looked more efficient that on this show, especially now that Walter White is cooking his meth in a spiffy new lab.

Does Breaking Bad in any way glorify the drug trade? Oh, I don't think so.  I was just re-watching some of the episodes with Jessie and his late girlfriend, and they were about as grim and unappealing as any anti-drug PSA any ad maven could dream up.  I'd safely say you get the impression that drugs are for losers -- and for those without enough sense or money to stop using them.  Very sad life, very grungy, and we're right in the thick of it with Breaking Bad, as we watch our cast of characters getting kicked around and changing in not always desirable ways.

You won't find any better acting duo onscreen or TV now than Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul as Walter and Jessie, comrades in meth-cooking, strange bedfellows indeed, but one of the most fascinating relationships you'll ever enjoy seeing brought to life.  Every actor in Breaking Bad is superb, chilling, touching, terrifying, multi-faceted and utterly real.  This show has everything.

Breaking Bad and its 4th season premieres tonight at 10pm on AMC.  Visit the Breaking Bad website here for plenty of interesting info. 

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Summer TV: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Summer TV is well underway, with just a few series left to roll out their new seasons. It's time to weigh in on what's working and what's tanking for me.


--Breaking Bad: OK, it doesn't officially start until this Sunday (July 17th) but the anticipation is almost making me high. This show is so good, it would be nearly impossible for them to screw it up at this point. Furthermore, it is most likely the last season, so I can imagine the producers will want to go out with a bang. It's a Southwest existential morality tale on AMC. I will be there with bells on.

--Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations: Premiered this past Monday at 9pm on the Travel Channel, this is my favorite food/adventure/travel show in the whole world. Anthony Bourdain is perfect. He's handsome...he's funny...he's adventurous. I think he makes it cool to be American these days (God knows we could use it). At the very least, he makes it extra cool to be a traveling New York Foodie. This week's new season opened with a trip to Cuba. Light on politics, heavy on baseball and black beans. Mmmmm, the tastiest treat on TV.

--Louie on fX: Season two kicked off a couple of weeks ago (Thursdays at 10:30pm). I am so very happy to say that it still enthralls. Brilliant, uncomfortable, tragic, beautiful and sometimes (because yeah, technically it is a comedy) balls to the wall funny. There is absolutely nobody like Louie ck on television. Nobody. I have to hand it to Fox for not meddling with this gem so far. Maybe they forgot it was on. It is mesmerizing. Last week's pregnant sister episode gave a whole new spin on the good Samaritan neighbor theme. This show is my obsession.

Rescue Me: Rescue Me returns tonight (July 13th) on fX at 10pm. This is the last season for Denis Leary's firehouse opus and it is timed perfectly to coincide with the 10th anniversary of 9-11. I want to see how he resolves his ghosts and demons and I think Leary's Tommy Gavin character is always interesting and funny, although incredibly messed up. I have never doubted the sincerity of Rescue Me and have great faith that they will do something profound before the FDNY crew is closed down forever.


--True Blood: Everybody knows how much I love HBO, but this series has seriously gone bonkers. Someday I will write of Alan Ball's Six Feet Under saga about the L.A. Fisher family and how it was the greatest television show in the history of the universe. But he's gone crazy with True Blood and I'm about to abandon ship. I don't care about the over the top sex or violence or the fact that in the season premier they used a fake boulder and sand desert background set that looked like it was straight out a 1960's episode of Star Trek. What I care about it that I'm bored. Bored to death with Sookie and Tara and Bill and Eric. Well maybe not so much with Eric. Don't want to see Jason raped by a pack of trailer trash zombies. I like Marnie the witch's dead parrot...I hate Marnie the witch. You know how every year you have to sort out the Christmas lights that have mysteriously mated like a pile of snakes in the garage? That's what this feels like. The story line is a hot tangled mess.

--Falling Skies: I had high hopes for this TNT series. Sci Fi, original, Steven Spielberg, lavish production, cool scary aliens taking over (we'll call them Skitters). I've watched the first couple of episodes and I don't think I'll be coming back. It's just not compelling. We never get to see the aliens, so the threat seems very remote. And the survivors in this post apocalyptic world are way...way too clean. Why would they all be so fashion model clean? Even the kids look like they've been air brushed! I don't know why but it really bothers me. I can't go on a day long road trip without looking like a refugee, and these people have been without electricity, washing machines and running water for quite some time. They should at least be a little smudged. Note to Falling Skies the movie Road Warrior. You can make your end of the world characters stylish AND dirty! And show a few aliens eating little kids with their tentacles or something!


Curb Your Enthusiasm: Larry has a long conversation with a 13 year old girl scout about her first period and tampons. Really? What planet is this creepy scene even remotely funny on? Anyway, I only like Jeff Garlin and Susie. If someone wants to make a clip show of them, I'll still watch. Otherwise...buh bye Larry!

Here's a little taste of Breaking Bad. Oh my, can't wait for Sunday!

Another TV Comedy Maestro Passes -- Farewell to Sherwood Schwartz

First Sam Denoff passes away, and now another man who definitely had his finger right on the perfect pulse point for pop culture immortality.  Writer, producer and comedy veteran Sherwood Schwartz passed away yesterday at the age of 94, and like Denoff, it's impossible to consider classic TV comedy without giving a huge nod to his output and influence.  It was a simpler time for television comedy, to be sure -- no scathing social commentary, no references to scandalous body parts -- but the competition was tough. In a landscape where Lucy still reigned, you really had to be funny, and skilled, and maybe just a little lucky to make audiences laugh and keep coming back for more.  Sherwood Schwartz was all that.

After a college career studing biology -- smart guy, too! -- Schwartz joined his brother (never underestimate familial connections in Hollywood) who was a writer for Bob Hope.  Both Schwartz boys were soon on Hope's regular writing staff, and later Sherwood wrote for other shows, then transitioned over to the TV side of things to write for popular series like I Married Joan and The Red Skelton Show.  Fortune smiled on him when his concept for a desert island sitcom called Gilligan's Island sold to CBS, leading to a three year network success -- 1964 - 1967 -- and decades of syndication reruns which show no signs of abating.  (Sorry for not being able to put the actual opening credits here -- none on YouTube are embeddable.)

If Sherwood had done nothing more than strand Gilligan and the Skipper on that island, it probably would have been enough, but Schwartz' comic mind never stopped.  In 1966 he created the short-lived but peppy astronauts-meet-cavemen sitcom It's About Time, with its peppy theme song that has lingered in fan memory longer than the series itself.  Sherwood wrote the theme songs to all his big hit series; they're all charming and unforgettable, so chalk up another talent for him.

In 1969 Sherwood Schwartz again hit the motherlode -- he created the blended family sitcom The Brady Bunch, leading to five years of hilarious childhood angst and giving babyboomers of a certain age a universal touchstone.  (I was too old for TBB, never watched it -- except when Davy Jones did a guest gig -- but I get its appeal!).  If Aaron Spelling supplied the "jiggle" for a generation, Sherwood Schwartz gave us the "giggle".  With his gentle humor, appealing casts and an appreciation for slapstick that has kept his most popular series on top, Schwartz didn't aim too high but neither did he stoop low.  Middle America loved him, and he earned it.

Creating two of the biggest success in sitcom history didn't mean Sherwood Schwartz took his shingle in; he continued to create series -- Dusty's Trail, Harper Valley PTA -- and remain vitally connected with Gilligan's Island and The Brady Bunch as they found pop culture immortality.  Gilligan had two TV movies in the 1980s; the Brady family, especially, spawned lots of spin-off series (including variety shows) and of course his characters made it to the big screen twice during the 1990s as nostalgia for the series hit an all-time high.

Making millions of TV viewers happy for decades defines a life well-lived; Sherwood Schwartz had that life.  In a wonderful gesture he also wrote a final letter that he asked be published in The Hollywood Reporter after his death.  It's completely charming and shows what a nice guy he was.  You can read it here.  You might also enjoy watching his multi-part interview at the Archive of American Television.

The Flaming Nose joins Schwartz' family, friends and fans in remembering and honoring this wonderful icon on classic TV.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Rob Grill of The Grass Roots - Rest in Peace

I grew up in a home surrounded by music. My mom loved the big bands and standards, but most notably, she loved Frank Sinatra. My dad loved Eddy Arnold, Patti Page and Connie Francis; and and my older siblings loved the Four Seasons and the Beatles. My deep rooted passion for music goes way back to my childhood.
I have a good memory. I'm one of those trivia kooks who can tell you when a song came out, what label it was on and who sang lead. There were 45s and 33 1/3 records laying around the house and at any given point you could hear Glenn Miller, the Rolling Stones or Marty Robbins. My childhood friend, Kathy and I would often walk six blocks south and 2 1/2 blocks east to the local Ben Franklin to purchase records. One of my first 45 purchases was a single by the Grass Roots. Today, you wouldn't dream of letting two little kids walk a mile away from their home to do anything, let alone buy records, but those were different times. It was long before you had to end up worrying that your child might end up on the side of a milk carton. We practically knew someone on every block we walked through to get there and when we got there it was like a variety of gift boxes to open.
When I mention the Grass Roots to anyone under a certain age most members of the under the certain age demo have absolutely no idea who I am talking about. I usually look at them with near pity in my eyes thinking you have no idea what happy sounds like. Their music may not have had complex chord progressions, but all these years later whenever I hear one of their songs - I feel good. I still love Cat Stevens, the Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, Led Zeppelin and of course, the aforementiond Beatles, but none of them actually make me bounce around and sing along with a loud joy-filled singing in the shower mood.
All these years later - their music still works. It is pop music at its finest. The Grass Roots were my boys for several years. They were my little girl emotional attachment group. They would go on to have fifteen top 30 hits for Dunhill Records and ABC Records (yes, that ABC - at one point ABC owned a record company). They sold over 20 million records between 1966 and 1973. Their healthy output included such classics as "Midnight Confessions," "Wait a Million Years," "Temptation Eyes," "Sooner or Later," "Heaven Knows," "Come on and Say It," "Two Divided by Love" and their last big charting song, "Glory Bound." "Glory Bound" has this raucous finale with Rob Grill's voice going into the aching category that few could reach. They still hold the record as the act with the longest running non-stop presence on the Billboard charts. They had a song in the top 100 for some 307 weeks straight. No act has ever accomplished that feat.

I will admit to this - I loved Rob Grill. Even as a little girl I knew he was a cutie pie! He was the voice of The Grass Roots and this kid loved that voice and that face. Over the course of my career in the entertainment industry I've had the privilege (although, sometimes not such a privilege) to meet lots of famous people. Unfortunately, I never met Rob Grill. In a way, that may have been a good thing. He might have been a jerk and then I would have disliked him and his music and I wouldn't want to have gone through all these years without listening to their music.
The Grass Roots were on television a lot during their heyday. They appeared on "The Tonight Show," "The Today Show" and "Good Morning America." I vaguely remember their appearance on "The Ed Sullivan Show" (even though I'm probably confusing a viewing in its original format with a clip pulled from the web). They appeared on "American Bandstand" a record setting 16 times. I must admit I don't remember seeing them all 16 times, but knowing how I rarely missed Dick Clark's show I probably saw them at least a few of those times. One of my first two albums in LP form would be their Greatest Hits collection. Somewhere there is even a photo of me holding it up proudly. By the time The Grass Roots started their disbanding I was not ready to move on, but they were, so my new emotional attachment band became the Eagles. I still love the Eagles, but my first group treasure were the Grass Roots. I covet their music to this day. I have treasured their Anthology collection and wouldn't dare let it go.

Yesterday morning at 11:00am Rob Grill died in a Florida hospital. I heard the news for the first time late last night. Then this morning WBBM AM 780 News in Chicago did a nice tribute to him in their top of the hour network news break . He died in the arms of his wife, Nancy listening to "Let's Live for Today." I'm near to crying as I write this post.

Rob Grill (who had several hip replacement surgeries) took a horrible fall a few weeks back and that led to a massive stroke. He had his first stroke three years ago and he learned to walk with a cane. He pretty much couldn't sing like Rob Grill anymore, but he still could play that bass guitar, but the recent stroke ended up putting a hold on that bass playing.

I take this story even more personally since I had my own health story close call 18 months ago. Out of nowhere I developed a severe internal carotid artery occlusion on my left side. I was completely healthy (ate right, exercised, never smoked, rarely had alcohol and never used drugs) and yet here I was being told I would be dead shortly if I didn't do what they wanted to do. The medical team decided to place a stent in my artery since my occlusion was trickier and more deadly than most. I didn't want to stroke out, but their fear was I would stroke out and die. I am all too aware of the fact that I am at greater risk for stroke than the average Joe or Mary, but I am so aware of my body that I am hopeful I will see a sign before it strikes. Although, as we see with the death of Rob Grill, sometimes it's our time. Everyone who lives will die. It's just the one pure fact of living a life.

My life has changed a great deal in the last couple of years. My wonderful career in television was literally given up and walked away from when my dad passed away after struggling with Alzheimer's disease for many years. I decided to move home to be with my now aging mom. I haven't regretted the decision once. Life is indeed brief and fragile.
When I was a young girl I could have asked "Where Were You When I Needed You" and now all these years later I could say that the voice of Rob Grill is still here and still giving me great moments of smiling happiness. I don't think I could clean my house without him. I didn't fear death due to my deep faith and I hope my dear Rob Grill didn't fear it either. Mr. Grill, you brought me great musical comfort as a child, as a teen-angst ridden high-schooler and I carried you through college, grad school and every move to new jobs in new cities. When I want to get moving, I pull you up on my iPod. I yell out every lyric to every song and it brings back my own glory days of youth. Rob, may you rest in peace and may you be glory bound.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Forget the "Singles," This is an ALBUM!

"American Idol" season 7 winner David Cook is back with a standout sophomore album.

In this age of singles, singles, singles, and the ability on itunes to download tracks a la carte, David Cook has given music lovers a reason to go for the whole enchilada. Cook hesitates to call This Loud Morning a “concept album” because he wants listeners to interpret its theme and songs their own way; but the theme is so strong, and the flow so carefully layed out, it really is best to listen to the album in order - start to finish - in one sitting. This is the closest I’ve seen anything come to a classic 70s/80s-style concept album in two decades. Don’t let that scare you. No single track relies on another for a great listening experience. Play any one of them and you’ll have a winner for 3 to 4 minutes in your head. It’s just that played in order, as a whole, the experience is enahanced 10-fold. The musical connection between first track Circadian with last (non-bonus) track Rapid Eye Movement is a stroke of genius. They are bookends that tie the whole album together. It truly is like falling asleep and into a melodious and intense dream… before you go under for that deep sleep.

Lyrically, This Loud Morning shows great progression on the part of Cook. Musically, it further establishes his style and voice, but it is far superior to anything he has created in the past. Producer Matt Serletic (Ryan Star, Matchbox 20) took these great songs and worked magic on them. The instrumentation and arrangements are brilliant, but best of all, Serletic did what he’s known for: he let the singer’s voice remain front and center. With Cook’s last album, my only (minor) complaint was that too many of the tracks had a wall of sound that didn’t let his amazing voice shine through. This time, David’s voice is the star, and the instrumentation and effects are superb supporting players.

Standout tracks for me are Circadian; Right Here, With You; Take Me As I am; Paper Heart; Goodbye to the Girl; Rapid Eye Movement and bonus track Let Me Fall For You. I’m just waiting for NBC to use “We Believe” for the Olympics (the way they’ve used Cook’s “Heroes” on NBC Sports for the last two seasons).

If you order through Cook's online store at his website, you can get a fanpack that includes the deluxe 14 track edition of the album, a t-shirt, a poster, and an acoustic EP called "This Quiet Night." It contains five tracks (The Last Goodbye, Right Here With You, Take Me As I Am, Goodbye To the Girl and Paper Heart), recorded unplugged by David and his band with just piano, acoustic guitars and soft drums. It's a gem.If you just want the music, I highly recommend the deluxe version which includes the two killer bonus tracks and a "making of the album" DVD (it's included on iTunes as a video download).

If I had to rate This Loud Morning, I would give it ★ out of

Here is the lead single from the album, "The Last Goodbye"

R.I.P. Sam Denoff, TV Comedy Writer Extraordinaire

Those of us who spent our childhood glued to our TV sets -- in other words, all of us here -- were saddened to hear of the death of veteran comedy writer Sam Denoff on July 8th. Especially close to my heart for his contributions to The Dick Van Dyke Show and for his co-creation of Marlo Thomas' That Girl, Mr. Denoff most often paired up with fellow writer Bill Persky to create some of the cleverest and most intelligent humor on TV at the time.  He won two Emmy Awards for his work on TDVDS, and was nominated for two others, and no doubt deserved a lot more than that. 

Sam Denoff was incredibly prolific.  In addition to aforementioned series, Mr. Denoff also wrote many individual episodes of various sitcoms, contributed to many variety specials -- Bill Cosby, Dick Van Dyke, Goldie Hawn -- plus he co-created Good Morning World, the short-lived but super-hip 1967 series about two disc jockeys starring Joby Baker and Ronnie Schell, and later helped produce the hilarious It's Garry Shandling's Show and consulted on Bonnie Hunt's Life with Bonnie.  He also taught comedy writing at the University level and was a dedicated supporter of the Television Academy Foundations's Archive of American Television, where you can watch an extensive nine-part interview with him, conducted in 2000.

You may not know that he also wrote the lyrics to the That Girl theme, featured in at least one version of the opening credits throughout the run of the program.  Here's an early title sequence, and then one with Mr. Denoff's charming lyrics!

Here's the opening credit sequence to Good Morning World --

Sam Denoff and his contributions to classic TV will live on as audiences continue to appreciate well-crafted comedy writing. 

Where to Watch:  Episodes of The Dick Van Dyke Show are available on Hulu, there is some That Girl on YouTube and the seasons are available on DVD.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Happy 4th of July, from Archie Bunker

Here's one of my favorite rants from All in the Family's Archie Bunker, always played impeccably by Carroll O'Connor. Mike (Rob Reiner) is vying for a professorial appointment in Minnesota, but he's afraid his opponent, a black man, will be chosen ahead of him in a case of affirmative action. Archie, really arguing against his daughter Gloria (Sally Struthers) being shipped off to another state, turns years of arguments about race back around on Mike, while still sticking to his old ways of thinking. Great stuff--and I guarantee, this is what a lot of people out there really think. Anyways, Happy July 4th, everybody!